We’re very excited to welcome Lori Degman, author of Like A Girl, to Story Snug. The book, illustrated by Mara Penny, takes a fascinating look at women who have been successful in sport, politics, arts and science as well as those who have changed the world through standing up for their rights and instigating social reforms.
Like A Girl: Each page introduces a different woman with one line of text. The twenty four women include Harriet Tubman, Amelia Earhart, Irene Sendler, Mother Teresa and Ruby Bridges.
The book is written in rhyme and uses strong, inspirational language. It encourages readers to stand up, prevail, create, soar, train and change the world. Short biographies at the back of the book give more information about each woman, we were introduced to women that we had never heard of including Temple Grandin, whose personal experience with autism helped her become an expert in cattle management, and Wangari Maathai who has won The Nobel Peace Prize for starting The Green Belt Movement and showing Kenyan people how trees can improve their lives.
Mara’s bold illustrations complement the strength of each woman and we absolutely love the spread at the end that inspires readers to be curious and ask questions.
After reading, Like A Girl, we had several questions for Lori, we’re always interested to hear ‘the story behind the story’.
We always love to know how our guests became authors. What was your first book and how did it come to be published?
My first published book is actually the first story I wrote when I’d first decided to write picture books. I wrote the first draft of, YOU’LL NEVER BELIEVE WHAT I SAW AT THE ZOO, for a night class on writing back in 1991! I submitted it for a few years (through snail mail – no internet), then my sons were both in school so I went back to work and I stopped writing for about ten years! When I started writing again, I learned a lot more about writing and submitting – thanks to the internet! I changed that original story into a counting story, 1 WACKY ZOO, and I started subbing again. During that time, I heard about a contest through Cheerios, looking for unpublished authors. I entered that story and it won! It became 1 Zany Zoo (much better title) and Simon & Schuster published it and Cheerios shrunk it down, added Spanish, and put it inside 2.2 million boxes of Cheerios! It was all very exciting!
Wow! What an awesome start to your writing career!
Like a Girl is your 5th picture book. How / where did you get the inspiration for the book from?
I wrote Like a Girl in fall, 2017. I had been upset because of news stories about famous and powerful men taking advantage of women. When I heard a negative comment about how somebody had done something “like a girl”, that was the last straw! I started thinking about all the amazing things women have done – and continue to do – and I decided to write a book about it. At the time, my mom was recovering from knee replacement surgery and I had to go to her independent living apartment every day and push her in a wheelchair to lunch. She ate with friends, so I sat in the lobby and wrote the first drafts. It only took about two months to get it to “submission ready” and it sold in three months! That’s the fastest I’d ever written and sold a picture book!
That does sound fast, publishing can be very slow at times!
You have included 24 women from all around the globe including Malala Yousafzai, Tammy Duckworth, Zahra Hadid and Sally Ride. Several of them were unknown to us, how did you choose which women to include?
There were several women I knew I wanted from the start. The first line of the book is the original first line and I wrote it with Rosa Parks in mind. After I wrote all the stanzas, I did research to find women who would be good fits. I did this with diversity (race, nationality, age, era in which they lived) in mind. I realized too late that I didn’t include anyone Jewish – and I’m Jewish! Such a shanda (that’s Yiddish for shame or disgrace).
Is there / are there any particular woman who have inspired you throughout your life?
Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan really inspired me, though they had nothing to do with my decision to be a teacher of the deaf – at least I don’t think they did – maybe subconsciously. I’ve been inspired by really great teachers and also by talented authors.
Do you have a favourite illustration from the book?
I love all of Mara Penny’s illustrations but my favorite page is the last page with the three girls.
It’s a fabulous illustration and sends a powerful message that girls from all races or cultures have the potential to achieve great things. How much, if any, collaboration did you have with your illustrator, Mara Penny?
We didn’t really collaborate directly, but my editor asked me to send her photos of each woman doing what I imagine they’d be doing in the book. Other than that input, it’s all Mara’s amazing talent!
Is there a message that you hope to convey to children who read the book?
I want both boys and girls to know that it’s good to do things like a girl because girls do amazing things.
You have written fiction and non fiction picture books. Is it possible for you to choose a favourite from those you have written?
I love each of my books for different reasons, but I think my best writing (so far) is Cock-a-Doodle Oops! I have a couple more I’m submitting that I think could be as good – let’s hope I can find an editor who agrees!
Cock-a Doodle Oops has a great rhyme and is wonderful to read aloud. We lent our copy to a little friend, he loves it so much that he still has it!
Do you have a favourite location or environment to work in?
I need background noise to help me focus on what I’m writing – it’s an ADD thing. I can’t write with music playing, if there are lyrics, because I’ll start singing. I usually work at my kitchen table with the news on (that’s what I’m doing right now).
I’m the opposite. I need peace and quiet otherwise I get distracted!
Are you able to tell us about any future titles or projects that you’re working on?
I have another rhyming picture book coming out in April called Travel Guide For Monsters, illustrated by Dave Szalay and published by Sleeping Bear Press. Currently, I’m working on a couple of rhyming picture books but I don’t want to share the titles yet – they’re both unique and I don’t want someone who writes faster and/or better than me to get any ideas from them! One is a story and the other is more of a concept book, similar in style to Just Read!
I’m really excited to hear that Just Read! is an ILLINOIS READS 2020 selection for grades K-2!
We’re always interested to know what authors enjoy reading. Do you have a favourite picture book from your childhood?
I really loved the Little Bear books by Elsa Holmelund Minarik & Maurice Sendak. Technically, they’re early readers, but I love them! I also loved What Do You Say Dear? by Sesyle Joslin & Maurice Sendak and Hurry Hurry by Edith Thacher Hurd.
Do you have a current favourite picture book?
There are way too many great picture books out these days and I have a lot of picture book author and illustrator friends, so I’d hate to pick a favorite!
That’s very diplomatic and totally understandable!
Thank you so much for answering all our questions and congratulations on the publication of Like A Girl. We look forward to reading your next book, Travel Guide For Monsters – it’s such an intriguing title!
About Lori Degman
Lori Degman writes in rhyme, most of the time – but not always! She is the award-winning author of 1 Zany Zoo (Simon & Schuster, 2010), Cock-a-Doodle Oops! (Creston Books, 2014); Norbert’s Big Dream (Sleeping Bear Press, 2016); Just Read (Sterling Publishing, 2019); Like a Girl (Sterling Publishing, 2019); and Travel Guide For Monsters (Sleeping Bear Press, April 2020). Lori recently retired from teaching Deaf & Hard of Hearing students and now writes full-time – when she’s not babysitting her grandkids!
The UK Federation of Children’s Book Groups has spent the whole of November celebrating non fiction, they have ideas and information on how you can celebrate non fiction books on their website.
You can see more of our favourite non fiction picture books on our Pinterest board.